Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Wellness Wednesday: Poison Ivy

Nothing makes my skin itch like the thought of getting a poison ivy rash. These plants tend to grow in the Midwest and Eastern portions of the US. Generally, they have three leaves on one stem (hence the childhood warning of "leaves of three, let it be"), but can have as many as nine. In the summer, the leaves are green, but turn to red in the fall. There may also be yellow or green flowers and white berries. It can be a shrub (either trailing or free standing) or a woody, rope-like vine. If you find it in your yard, it is ideal to remove it, but take caution. It often will grow back and removing it yourself will put you at risk of exposing yourself to it. Hiring a professional is ideal, but if you try to do it yourself be sure to take proper precautions (see below). If manually removing it, be sure to get the roots. You can also use an herbicide, such as Round Up or Ortho Max Poison Ivy. Be warned that the herbicides will also kill any nearby plants that are exposed to it. Continue pulling the poison ivy and/or spraying it with an herbicide until it no longer returns. Be sure to properly and carefully dispose of all the poison ivy, including the roots. Even dead poison ivy can cause a rash. Most importantly, DO NOT BURN poison ivy. Inhaling the fumes is a far greater health risk, potentially a fatal risk, than the rash.

Now that we can identify it, what happens if we find ourselves around it? First, be sure to dress in a long sleeved shirt, pants, boots, and gloves, if you know you will be around it. You can also purchase a product called Ivy Block to apply to any exposed areas.

If you are exposed to poison ivy, what do you do? First, not everyone will get a rash. It is sort of like mosquito bites, many of us will develop an allergic reaction to it, but there is a good amount of people who do not. Any which way, it is best to get the oils off your skin as quickly as possible, like within 10 minutes. Using rubbing alcohol, cleanse the area thoroughly. Rinse with plain water and then take a shower, washing your entire body with soap and water. Put on gloves and wipe down any affected items (clothing, tools, shoes, etc) with rubbing alcohol. In place of rubbing alcohol, there are commercial products available as well, such as Zanfel and Ivy Cleanse.

Those who are unable to get the urushiol (poison ivy oil) off their skin quickly enough and develop a rash can expect the rash to be very itchy with bumps and vesicles filled with fluid. The red bumps will likely be in a straight line or streaks. Rashes can occur within 8 hours or may take several days to appear. The rash can be treated with antihistamines, steroids (oral,shot, and/or topical) and anti-steroidal creams. Most treatments focus on relieving the itching and drying up the vesicles. Calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream are two generic examples, but some brand name examples include: Ivarest, Ivy Soothe, and Tecnu Extreme Poison Ivy Scrub. If there is a medical history of severe reactions to poison ivy or the rash is spreading quickly, contact a doctor ASAP.

Now, hopefully, all of us and our little ones will be able to avoid this summer nuisance, but if we do not, we now know how to handle it.

PS- I know I have mentioned several brand names in this post. Please know that this is not an intentional promotion. It is simply to give you some references for commercial products.

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